Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sony a7 II (ILCE-7M2) Hands On First Impressions

Sony's A7 will be updated on December 5th 2014 with an upgraded second version, available in Japan only. The new camera will ship globally in early 2015. The second version of the camera improves on the first generation with:

  • 5-Axis sensor-shift image stabilization
  • Improved autofocus speed and tracking
  • XAVC S video codec, 50Mbps
  • S-Log2 picture setting  à la Sony A7s
  • Redesigned front grip
  • Front command dial relocated,  à la Nikon

It's also important to also note what hasn't changed:

  • 117-point phase-detection and 25 contrast detection AF points: This is the same as the A7. By comparison, the Sony 6000 uses 179 phase detection points.
  • Same NP-FW50 battery. For reference, the A7 is rated at 340 shots under the CIPA testing standard
  • Rear control cluster is still the same. More about this later 

Quite frankly, the inclusion of in-camera image stabilization is enough to get many people excited., given how well the system on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 works. Sony will probably be coy, but its very likely that the a7 II's image stabilization system is descended from Olympus technology, given that Sony acquired part ownership of Olympus after the accounting scandal of 2011.

(First posted November 21st, 2014. Updated November 28 with hands on impressions with a pre-production unit at the 2014 Broadway Camera Black Friday Photo Expo.)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Just want to take time and thank all of my U.S. friends, and wish them a happy Thanksgiving. I'll always have fond memories of my time in LA and all of the friends I made over the years.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sony A6000 and A5100 Autofocus Guide

The Sony A6000 is an upper-level enthusiast's camera wrapped in a mid-level consumer body. There is a lot of extended capability to tap in to, but the potential is somewhat hampered by a user interface that doesn't always separate the casual aspects of the camera from the more advanced enthusiast-oriented functions. This is quite apparent in the way that the camera's autofocus system operates; it's extremely capable but the menu system does not give you an indication as to which methods are best with which situations. In cooking terms, the user design shared by the A6000 and A5100 has many ingredients but is lacking recipes on how to put them together. It also does not help that the owner's manuals are a bit on the short side for cameras with such a deep menu systems. Even with minimal user experience these cameras can be quite capable, but a little bit of understanding will go a long way towards getting the most out of their sophisticated autofocus systems.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Review

The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM  is the professional-level upgrade to the EF 100mm f/2.8 USM macro. The build quality is better and it includes image stabilization. (... and being a red ring lens, it actually includes a lens hood, wonder of wonders....) Ostensibly, Canon does not put much thought into the aesthetics of their middle-tier lenses, but the 100mmL looks the part for being a professional-quality lens.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sony A7s High ISO Still Image Quality Review

"Better pixels, not more pixels" has been something of a counter-culture camera refrain in the camera community in the post-Nikon D800 era. For the most part, the manufacturers haven't truly given this to users. Fujifilm has held the line at 16mp for their APS-C cameras, and Nikon only marginally bumped the 12 megapixel count of the D3s to the 16mp D4/Df generation, but nobody has offered less pixels... until the Sony A7s, that is. 

Before we continue any further, it should bear repeating that the A7s' strength is primarily as a video camera. The ability to 4K at extremely low light levels sets it apart from all other videography tools, including the well received Panasonic GH4. This is what business types affectionately call "the unique selling proposition"... it's the only one of its kind, and it's good at what it does. (However, the inability of the A7s to record 4K internally is a hassle for some.) As a stills camera, the A7s is not so much unique as it is superlative. There are other low-light cameras for stills photography; the A7s just so happens to be the best. Or is it...?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Review

Canon's 7D Mark II is late to the party. Very late, as in Chinese Democracy late. It's the camera that many people have wanted, but so much time has passed, one wonders if they've moved on to wanting something else by now. The original EOS 7D was announced in September of 2009, making its customers the second-most long suffering group in modern photography. The group that has waited the longest is the audience for the D300s successor; that camera was introduced a month ahead of the 7D. In the ensuing years, both cameras were much beloved by their respective camps. The Canon has arguably aged more gracefully, though that's not saying much since most of the EF-S lineup hasn't evolved as fast as the rest of the industry. The headline specs for the7D Mark II:

  • Magnesium alloy body
  • 20.2 MP CMOS sensor with Dual-Pixel CMOS AF
  • New 65-point AF, all points cross-type
  • Continuous shooting: 10fps
  • Dual DIGIC6 processors
  • ISO 100-16,000, boosted to 52,000
  • Shutter rated to 200,000 cycles.
  • New RGB+IR new 150,000-pixel metering sensor
  • 1080p video at 60fps
  • Built in GPS tagging

  • In other words, this is the consumer-level EOS 70D in semi-pro working clothes. That's the impression that you get from reading the specs, but in actual use, its more like a scaled-down 1Dx. Yes, 1Dx, not 5DmIII.

    Updated November 6, 2014: Image samples from production units added, content expanded upon in all of the article sections. It turns out that the image quality from the 70D holds up nicely against all other APS-C competitors. 

    Monday, November 3, 2014

    Canon Powershot G7 X Review

    Canon, more so than other camera companies, continues to rely on compacts at a time when the industry is shifting upwards away from the encroachment of mobile phones at the bottom of the market. Nikon was once omnipresent with numerous Coolpix iterations, but they didn't have a distinct stand-out brand identity and never captured the enthusiast attention in the way that their DSLRs do. Sony was also in a similar position not too many years ago, but has since made an obvious dash for higher ground by pushing the RX100 line upwards and proliferating the lower end of the NEX/Alpha lines.

    Canon, meanwhile, has a bit of a  "mom and pop" presence in the market. Though the compact market has not so much shrunk so much as it has collapsed, Canon has maintained clear lines of differentiation in their compact range... G-type cameras (G1 X Mark II, G16) continue to occupy the top, the SX series for superzoom lovers, the S120 for "higher-end" slim compacts and just about everything else for the budget-concious. Overall, the Canon range is easy the casual shopper to understand, as this product mix offers both breadth and differentiation. To make an expanded range like this work, you need a halo product to anchor it. Even though it is at the top of the heap, the G1 X Mark II does this poorly as it is neither compact nor is it affordable. Though it's shaped like a (very) big compact, it is functionally a DLSR replacement. This is where the G7 X comes in... small, yet capable. The headline features are:

    • 20MP 1"-type BSI sensor (same as RX100M3 and Panasonic FZ1000)
    • 24-100mm equiv. f/1.8-2.8 lens
    • Customizable control dial on lens
    • Flip-up LCD display screen
    • Dedicated exposure compensation dial
    • Wi-Fi with NFC

    So if you ever wondered what the RX100 would be like if Canon had built it, wonder no more.  When Sony launches a new product, its inevitably cutting edge, overly gadgety and unashamedly expensive. The G7 X is neither of those three things. Considering that the Sony is on the third iteration and the G7 X sincerely flatters the RX100 concept, its a device that won't win on charm or charisma, but there is something to be said about value. Many people have said that they would love to have a RX100 were it not for the price; the G7 X tests that assumption. At the time of its launch, it is priced less than the RX100M3 and has a longer and brighter lens. The RX100M2 sells for less, but also makes due with a slower aperture lens. On paper, the virtue of the G7 X speaks for itself. However, its never quite that simple.

    Saturday, November 1, 2014

    Leica X (Type 113) Review

    Leica X (Type 113) with leather half-case protector

    There's a first time for everything, and for many people, the X-series is their entry point into the world of Leica. Yes, the X Type 113, even with its large 16mp APS-C sensor at fast f/1.7 prime lens is an entry level camera... for Leica. Though a large sensor compact with a fast high quality prime lens has enthusiast appeal, the X series trades on that appeal but sells primarily to an entry-level crowd. This is an unsettling concept to reconcile with if you are a camera enthusiast, but it bears repeating that luxury marketing is not about selling to the 1% of in-come earners, but the aspirational 19% below that thin slice of society. There is a saying in Chinese about shoppers who want to do everything in "one step"... that is, if the means are possible to skip past the entry level and go right to the good stuff, the presumption being that the user will eventually grow into the capability of the equipment. You might not agree with that type of thinking, but its hard to argue that the X cameras aren't built for this type of mission. They are simple, elemental, and have the veneer of timelessness without requiring the dedication of the M series.

    The Type 113 continues on where the X2 left off in this regards.